Hello again!

As promised in my former blogpost, let me tell you some more about the days I spent in Warsaw, talking & brainstorming with Paweł Makowiecki.

Paweł Makowiecki is the founder of Responsible Business Institute (RBI), a Polish NGO of young 'social entrepreneurs' and young professionals that want to implant the idea of 'Corporate Social Responsibility' (CSR) in Polish companies and "turn social problems into economic opportunities". RBI’s mission is to "encourage and sustain, especially the poor and the weak, in the desire to freedom and independent thinking".

Paweł started his organization in early 2004, together with some friends and colleagues from the Ashoka School for Young Social Entrepreneurs and from AIESEC - an international student organisation mainly of economy students. RBi's activities are funded through its own operations and through donations from NGOs and the corporate sector.

Now I tell you: when in the early nineties I was an economy student myself I also became in touch with AIESEC, but I must admit I never heard about “social entrepreneurship” before... So, before I even dared to interview Paweł, I spent quite some time at one of Warsaw’s fancy-bars-with-WiFi-connection, doing my homework:)

First thing I found out was there is no proper english word for the very french sounding word “entrepreneur”. In a podcast that Paweł posted to this site, Charles Handy – a professor at the London School of Economics and a leading management thinker & social philosopher – states that entrepreneurs are like the “alchemists” of modern society: people that are able to glimpse opportunities that others don’t see, and are able to create an organization out of nothing else than an idea.

Social entrepreneurs then are men and women that implement an innovative idea for social change. “They solve social problems in far reaching, pattern changing ways” says the introduction video of Ashoka, the global association of the world’s leading social entrepreneurs. Its founder, Bill Drayton, states: "Our job is not to give people fish, it's not to teach them how to fish, it's to build new and better fishing industries." In a video interview from Social Edge, social entrepreneurs are defined as “pioneers of innovations that benefit humanity and tackle some of the world’s biggest problems”.

I thought this was enough to overcome my first embarassement, and decided to ask the rest to the specialist himself – after all I was the journalist here, wasn’t I? So I called Paweł and we made a long walk through Warsaw’s old city centre, while I asked how he became so passionate about social entrepreneurship, and how Responsible Business Institute fits into the picture and what kind of knowledge he could share with the telecentre-europe network...

Paweł: “I think I belong to this new generation of people that no longer wants to make ‘lots of money’, but wants to ‘do good’ to society instead. We were raised with an awareness for social inequality, for environmental issues, and for sustainable growth. But we also very much believe in market solutions, and in the power of innovations. We think social change cannot be reached exclusively through government funding, we think building a mentality of entrepreneurship and of ‘social capital’ is essential to solve today’s societal and environmental problems."

"On the other hand, corporate businesses are increasingly recognizing their social responsability today. So we are going through a ‘momentum’ now, where different parties ‘come together’ and ‘find each other’: a new generation of people that wants to deal with social problems through an ‘entrepreneurial approach’ and companies that want to invest in social programs.”

This was the kind of answer that not only satisfied me, but also made me regain some hope on the role of businesses in society today! But still - if corporate goodwill is 'widespread' and 'all over': “Why did you set up your own organization?”, I asked.

Paweł: “In a country like Poland - that recently became a member of the EU - the ‘momentum’ of opportunities for social entrepreneurship is even reinforced. Poland has a lot of social problems, but people lack trust to deal with some of the problems in an entrepreneurial way. I mean, Polish people do have an entrepreneurial ‘spirit’, they have the ‘energy’, but they don’t trust the others."

"And you cannot be an entrepreneur on your own, that’s the problem. You need to trust some partners before you can grasp the opportunities and do some business over here. To raise conscious about all this is the main drive behind the creation of Responsible Business Institute. We want to ‘make think’ and we want ‘to tank’ into the area of innovative social change in Poland.”

It all sounded very nice to my ears, but I was also curious to hear about some of the projects RBI runs - and if they already had some concrete results.

Paweł: “RBI’s first project was called ‘mKlub’, a costumer club for cell/mobile phone owners about responsible consumption and the sustainable use of technology. After that, we launched the project ‘Tatars Jurt’, where we helped an association of young Tatars (Polish muslims) to generate income through a social entreprise around tourism at the village of Kruszyniany, that was traditionally connected with Tatar culture.”

“Our biggest project started in october 2006, when we received a grant from Microsoft’s Unlimited Potential program to create 7 ‘Community Computer and Education Centers’ in the north-east of Poland, in our home region Podlasie - the poorest region of Poland. Since then, we have set up a structure where about 40 young volunteers give free training in basic computer & internet skills to about 1500 people in the region. With our program, we focus on the social development of two groups: the students of our telecentres (mostly elderly people, pensioners, unemployed and people that risk to lose their job) and the young trainers (mostly university students) - that teach them to overcome fears and learn about ICT in an enabling and welcoming environment.”

“Through our volunteer program, we try to change the mentality of today’s youth - sucked into the rather ‘negative’ culture around hip-hop that is claiming something like: ‘if you believe in something, if you have a hobby, than you are not cool’. We want to offer a new role model, a place where young people can go and meet other young people, where they can have fun while doing something nice for society – just like the Polish Scouting Movement did at the time I was a teenager kid.”

“So with our program we not only focus on building a knowledge society and fighting IT exclusion in the region, we also want to teach young people to trust each other, to make them realize they can work together for a common goal and achieve a lot more in that way. At the beginning, most of our volunteers just sign up because they want to grab some experiences for their CV. But after some weeks they realize they receive something bigger, they realize they have a whole gang of people now around them, with whom they do amazing things... That's the moment when they realize their way of thinking has profoundly changed... and this is also the moment we start teaching them how to build on this ‘social capital’, how to ‘blow’ their entrepreneurial skills and energy!”

Again, I was satisfied:) But still I wanted to know some more about RBI’s involvement with telecentre-europe, and about the type of knowledge his organization could exchange (instead of ‘share’, Paweł stressed) with the network.

Paweł: “Apart from best practices & success stories, e-learning resources, and resources for instructors, we can share our experience on volunteer commitment & recruitment."

"Our volunteers are aged between 17 and 37 and we apply a variety of methods to recruit them: we talk to all our friends about it, we put advertisements, we do speeches at the universities and we go to job fairs and career centres. Of course there is a continuous ‘drop out’ of volunteers, but we make sure to organize at least 5 social activities a year to keep them motivated. The canoe activity (watch the video) you joined last weekend was just one of all the activities we do... And don't forget: our ‘ning’ functions as an ideal tool to create a daily 'sense of belonging' to this telecentre 'family’ - as our volunteers like to call it:)”

“So very concrete now: if some European NGO would host one of our volunteers (through youth exchange programs like EVS, Leonardo, or through study visits), our young project leaders could share their knowledge on how to involve, train and motivate big groups of volunteer trainers in the local programs of that NGO.”

“Apart from this "sharing" we would also like to "receive" something from the network. We really would like to brainstorm with other telecentre networks around Europe about their experiences in sustainability planning through enterprise efforts. We want to collect ideas for potential enterprises and their potential target groups, as we are working on some businessmodel ourselves, that we think might be implemented at different computer centres around Poland."

"Our plans are still in a brainstorm phase, but the model we think of should be based on offering a series of services of ‘technological advice’ to local microentrepreneurs. We think about offering IT solutions like the configuration and selling of VoIP services (like Freeconet for example), web accounting services, internet auction services, etc. We for example see an income opportunity in the ‘partnership programs’ of most of these new payable services. NGO’s running telecentres could become such a partner and receive some fees or commission for offering these services to local entrepreneurs...”

Well, if you ask me: finally some member that expressed in detail ‘what-kind-of-knowledge-he-could-share-with-the-network-and-what-he-wants-to-learn-from-it’. Didn't he? Maybe some of you can send some brainstorm comments to Paweł through the commentbox beneath this article?

So what do you think? It WAS an amazing walk through Warsaw, wasn’t it?

But walking-and-interviewing was just one of the telecentre-europe activities I spent my time on with Paweł. As it was wednesday and almost 16 o’clock, we had to find a quiet place to sit down for the weekly “steering committee conference call”. It was a funny moment, because we were sitting there on this peaceful medieval square of warsaw, with our laptops and our ‘cellphone ears’, talking to our colleagues in Barcelona, Brussels, Timisoara, London, Moscow, Seatlle, Ottawa...

Warsaw was nice, and I really would like to come back one day.. It was my first time here and really: it was too short to see just anything of all the city's promising culture and nightlife...

So: do widzenia, warszawa!


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